Bond of scholarship

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 26 Oct 2017 08:32:26



Vijay Phanshikar,

To those haloed precincts, we often went with certain trepidation. The very name was daunting. For, whenever Father told stories of Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya, the Diwan of the erstwhile Princely State of Mysore, we could not avoid the feeling of extreme awe. His personality, his feats as an administrator, and moreover, his futuristic vision for India -- everything was awe-inspiring. So, when his name was on the premises -- Visvesvaraya Regional College of Engineering (VRCE), we felt doubly overawed. So, going to those premises often made a special occasion.

Those were the days when the VRCE, now VNIT (Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology) held a very special place in Nagpur’s social mindset. As school kids, we loved going to the sprawling premises endowed richly with wonderful vegetation, well-planned buildings of administrative blocks, academic segment, hostels, professors’ residential quarters etc. The road network inside those premises had a special attraction for us kids having learned to ride bicycles afresh. And on those heady rounds on our cycles, we would bump into celebrated teachers of engineering subjects almost physically when those graceful
men and women went for their evening walks.

On most occasions, we would stop by to have a good look at those faces that glowed with scholarship and achievement. We often suspected that they discussed only engineering and maths and physics and everything that had anything to do with machines and calculations and what not. And more often than not were we surprised to find them discussing mundane things such as how costly the vegetables were, and how their spouses chose to buy stuff from this store instead of that. It was fairly amusing an experience to hear those men and women discuss mundane matters, almost oblivious to the world of academics in which they lived.

But as the career in journalism got going, I did realise that my unworded sense of awe about VRCE was almost real. For, as I realised what great work went on inside the buildings, I started sensing a magnetic attraction towards the campus. Of course, I did have a few friends there, and I often went to spend time with them. Occasionally, we played cricket or football, too, on their ground and spend a few hours in the libraries that were stuffed with books that weighed as heavy as I did.

But it was sheer pleasure to handle those books whose content often bewildered me. Yet, trying to read those heavy texts and look at those unintelligible figures and sketches and charts did give a feeling of my intelligence-in-absentia. Nothing made sense, but I continued to read the contents of those monstrously heavy books doggedly. Of course, there were some ‘other’ books, too, which made a greater sense to me.

One afternoon, however, there was a scary -- now funny -- experience. Dr. V.M. Dokras, the then Principal of VRCE, walked into the library, poring over what every student read. He came near the table where I sat with three of my engineering friends. He recognised an outsider in no time.
“Who are you?”, he sought.

“Vijay Phanshikar.”
“Which class do you attend here?”
“I do not study here. I study in another college.”
“What brings you here, and who did that?”
Before my friends rose, I promptly responded:
“Sir, I came on my own. No one stopped me. I love reading. So I am here.”
“Boy, do you know any of these three boys around the table?”
“Yes Sir, but I came on my own.”
“You have broken rules. I am surprised why nobody stopped you. But let me see what you are reading”.
Dr. Dokras looked at the book in my hand and felt surprised.

“This book! You are reading this!
Do you ever understand head or tail from it?”
“Frankly, no Sir, but I am interested.”
He smiled, looked around, and then said to no one in particular, “Be careful. If such kids walk in and nobody stops them, there could be trouble.”
Then turning to me, he said, “I won’t stop you because you appear okay. But don’t mess up with things. Okay?”

At that moment, none, neither Dr. Dokras nor me, knew that we would develop a thick bond between us in succeeding years. As a Reporter, whenever I called on him in subsequent years, Dr. Dokras was more than sweet to me, often introducing me to others as an unusual young man who read engineering books when he did not understand a damn in those pages.

But then, and even now, VRCE- VNIT always had a very
glorious persona in my mind. For, I realised how young students, more boys and less girls, from all over the country came to study there having passed through a terribly rigorous screening. That sense of awe still
persists. Of course, in ranking VNIT may have faced some ups or downs over time, but the institutional aura is still palpable very much. One cannot miss the fact that this institution has given the nation some of the brightest engineering brains in the past fifty-plus years.

Though tucked away in one corner of Nagpur, VNIT enjoys a pride-of-place status in every Nagpurian’s heart. Its lush green campus, its cool and calm atmosphere wet with jungle fragrance often fascinates every Nagpurian every now and then. There are hundreds of outsiders who enjoy the privilege of their morning or evening walks in the campus.

What has often fascinated persons like me is the great numbers of eminent dignitaries visiting the institution for academic lectures. Each name carries a halo around the head. Each of those personalities has made signal contribution to national treasure-trove of scholarship.
Weighed down by that greatness, Nagpur prides in hosting the VNIT in its folds. What a bond it has been!